6.28.2019

D.N.A., EPISODE 2

By BarbaraBlackwell (March-April 2019, age 9)

IF YOU MISSED EPISODE ONE YOU CAN VIEW IT: HERE





To be continued in a few more weeks ...

6.26.2019

Book Review: A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle


Title: George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle
Authors: George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Rating: 1 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A very well-written series of books that are enjoyable and engrossing then quickly descent into nihilistic soul-destroying garbage in an unending meandering tale with no plot advancement over thousands of pages.

Given the wild popularity of these novels and the HBO TV series they have inspired, it seemed almost mandatory for a blog focussed on science fiction and fantasy to review this work.

Mr. Martin has been dubbed the "American Tolkien" by Time magazine -- I cannot agree with this. The world he created for "A Song of Ice and Fire" is certainly very well thought-out and full of rich details, reminiscent of Tolkien's Middle Earth. However, he is no Tolkien, first and foremost because whereas Tolkien wrote inspiring tales of friendship and honour amidst evil and destruction, Mr. Martin weaves a depressing, dark, and uninspiring tale.

George Martin is, technically, a very skilled writer, and it is his skill that kept me reading and made me really want to enjoy these books the way so many do. He may actually approach Tolkien's mastery in terms of command of language. His style is quite dynamic and engages all of the senses making his writing in some ways more engaging than Tolkein's. It is his underlying message/theme that I cannot abide, coupled with some rather stupid ideas that make no sense if one knows anything about medieval societies, and the outright pornography in sections.

The novels take place, for the most part, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which are, at the beginning of A Game of Thrones, united into single kingdom. It is an ancient kingdom with history stretching back some 12,000 years referenced in the story. The overarching plot is of a conflict between the leading families of the realm with House Lannister (the Queen of Westeros being of this house) playing the role of antagonists against the Starks of the North (the large family of Eddard Stark play a major role in the series). There is also a subplot concerning the exiled Targaryen heirs who seek to reclaim Westeros (the last Targaryen king having been overthrown about fifteen years before the start of A Game of Thrones). There are massive complexities within this broad plot involving familial alliances and age-old rivalries (quite well-done) which all explodes into a massive civil war.

One of the major aspects of the world Mr. Martin created is that it has seasons that last for years. I found it extremely difficult to suspend my disbelief on this score, since it would be impossible for people with mediæval technology to survive in northern climes where there are winters that last years and even a decade and more. Especially since there is reference to there being snow on the ground in summer in Winterfell. No satisfactory explanation is ever given in the novels as to how people stay fed in such an area -- although aside from this I found the world-building in these novels was well-done.

In addition to this, Mr. Martin populates his world with a large cast of characters who are for the most part believable and interesting. The problem I had with them is that they are, with very few exceptions who are all killed very early in the series, too "dark". That is, they are all completely out for themselves and here, again, the worldbuilding starts to fall apart a bit because a society with such universal disdain (not just disregard) for oaths and honour would not hold together. Certainly not in a feudal realm which Westeros is portrayed as. An assassination or an oath-breaking here-and-there is realistic and adds conflict to a story. The CONSTANT and unending oath-breaking, assassinations/regicides (more than one occurring at weddings that were ostensibly to form alliances), betrayals, the brutality of every character, the lack of decency, the complete narcissism and nihilism of every character who survives past the second novel, all proved too much for me. In the first two books this is not so bad as the few good and decent characters are still around. But as they are killed-off the work becomes uninspiring and depressing. At first I thought it was good writing -- giving the protagonists lots of conflict to overcome -- but ultimately it becomes clear that the overriding theme of "A Song of Ice and Fire" is complete nihilism, as summed up by a character called "The Hound":
... there are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.
Which is certainly not uplifting at all. It is social Darwinism/"survival of the fittest" writ large. It is, ultimately, soul-destroying uninspiring garbage. The technical writing itself is superb.  The many interesting plot elements and twists and turns, conbine for an enjoyable and addictive read. But this depressing and FALSE theme and theory cannot be countenanced. The real world is often ugly and there is evil in it, to be sure, but it is not THIS ugly -- J.R.R. Marin is beyond cynical in these books. Among humans there ARE true knights and heroes, and the IS a God. And no society has survived on a "survival of the fittest" mentality; it has rather been those societies that took duty seriously that rose to be great civilizations.

Just a couple examples from this series and how they're ridiculous when applied to real life. In one scene, we see a group of lords laughing to scorn a certain duke's "softness" because he allowed his peasants to take shelter inside his castle. This ignores the importance of serfs to a mediæval culture -- the main point of castles was to keep these valuable citizens safe. Martin never does try to explain how there isn't mass starvation across Westeros when the serfs are wantonly massacred and their own lords make no attempt whatsoever to protect them (and on the contrary tend to prey on their own serfs as much as the enemy). Then there's the marriage scene I referenced which angered me so much I stopped reading the novel for many weeks. It's preposterous that one would slay his new allies at the very wedding feast that is to seal the alliance. No one would ever join with that lord again and in reality in a feudal society which DEPENDS on the sacredness of oaths, such a man would be spurned by all.

Returning to the technical aspects, though the pacing was spot-on through the first two installments, I found that by book 3 (A Storm of Swords) the plot started to seriously drag and the overarching plot no longer advanced. It felt like the work started merely treading water and I wondered if Mr. Martin had any clear idea of how this civil war was supposed to end. He may not, given his inability to complete the series. Also, while unexpected twists are good,  Mr. Martin went too far in some instances. At one point he managed to wipe out, over the course of a chapter, almost all of the protagonists  and any realistic hope that whom I had identified as the "good guys" could win the war. I think this is a legitimate complaint, because it is not proper (in my humble opinion) for an author to  imply a certain group are the protagonists and then remove them from the work entirely. It is denying the reader delivery on an implicit promise.

This is NOT a work I would recommend to anyone. At best, it might be worth spending $15 on the Kindle version solely for the purpose of studying the technical writing/style of a talented author. Sadly, Mr. Martin uses his God-given talents to cynically promote a worldview of extreme nihilism.

6.19.2019

Some Thoughts from Godfrey on Science and Faith


I saw the picture above posted to Facebook. I certainly agree that "science and faith are compatible", but I think that the picture wrongly suggests that if you believe this you MUST accept the "big bang theory". The thing is, it's just that -- a theory. And how could it be otherwise since obviously no one other than God Himself was around at the time to see what happened.

The Big Bang theory does make a certain amount of sense, but, it's unprovable, and furthermore, there IS scientific evidence out there in favour of a "young earth". Just because you ascribe to that theory doesn't mean that you believe science and faith are incompatible. And, frankly, it would be great if there were more open study of such questions. The problem is that the modern-day secularist inquisition forbids a truly open and honest discussion of these things. You must accept evolution or you're a crazy fundamentalist. You must accept the "big bang" or you're a crazy fundamentalist. Et cetera. And it seems to me that we're buying into that mentality a bit when we make memes and videos like the ones above.

Moreover, it seems to me that the reason modern "scientists" and university professors persecute those with "heretical" views is because in some respects they have elevated unproven theories to the level of dogma in some sort of quasi-religion which they call "science" but really isn't science. Hence the witch hunt for creationists and others. So the opposition isn't really between faith and science. They frame it this way to stack the deck in their favour. But the opposition is frequently between this pseudo-religion and faith.

Just some random thoughts.

6.12.2019

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)


Title: The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Distributor: Lionsgate
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Excellence: 2 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A mediocre "dystopian future"-themed film that features the disturbing spectacle of children killing each other in gladiatorial-style games, which neverthless touched something in the young-adult crowd, becoming a box-office smash with several sequels

I went to see this film in the theatre solely as social research and to see what all the fuss was about. A film that grosses $150 million in its opening weekend must have some special appeal. I went in with low expectations -- living under a rock as I do, I was largely ignorant of the whole Hunger Games phenomenon. I knew nothing of the plot save the vaguest idea of the concept. It wasn't terrible, but I'm glad I went on "Cheap Tuesday".

So the basic plot is, per Internet Movie Database:

In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided between 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for a past rebellion, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. 

There really isn't much more to it than that. After the intial heroic act of volunteering to take her sister's place, the rest of the film is just a bunch of action sequences as Katniss tries to stay alive (with the mandatory shaky hand-held camera preventing the viewer from seeing much of it). Rather ho-hum I thought on the whole, although there were some things that were quite good.

I thought the Running Man-esque critique of modern media and the voyeurism of reality shows was quite well done. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the host of The Hunger Games was perfect. The "look" of the film, the art direction, etc., something that I pay close attention to was very well done also. The violence was treated decently insofar as it conveyed some of the horror inherent in children killing each other, without being too graphic.

But those good things do not add up to a good film. I thought that many aspects were highly problematic, and the biggest is that this is a truly post-Christian film in that the main protagonist has not a shred of Christian virtue -- and nor does anyone else. As I said, after the first self-sacrificing move for her sister, it's all self preservation and this really perverts what could have been a dark, yet powerful indictment of modern society. This unChristian ethical void leads of other things like the pagan glorification of suicide at the end of the film. I am NOT a fan of the "Xena Warrior Princess" politically correct gender-bending pugilism -- and therefore did not enjoy the concept of Katniss, a 16-year-old girl, who is capable of defeating all comers in hand-to-hand combat. It's not only horribly cliché and overused in sci fi especially, it's also just plain wrong. Wrong in that women in general aren't just as good at fighting as men, and from a Christian perspective the idea of women fighting is repulsive.  Even the Romans found the spectacle of gladiatrices intolerable and reformed them out of existence after Nero. The whole "adults = evil, children = good" trope (as exemplified by the fact that all the adult characters were either evil or useless, save, interestingly, Katniss' fashion consultant) so common in modern-day literature is really tiring and insidious.

Which leads me to why I think this film franchise is/was so popular. There is a strong theme of abandonment by parents/adults/society in the film that I think really resonates with today's youth.  So I can see why they have consumed this film in large numbers. But for my money, I do not recommend anyone rush out to see it except maybe as a way of gaining some insight into today's young adults?

6.07.2019

CALL TO ARMS



By Godfrey Blackwell

It was on his wedding day that Serveus Kunar finally became a complete man, but not at the nuptials themselves. It was afterwards, as he stepped from the cool darkness of the temple into the embracing warmth of the sun-bathed narthex and wedding guests cheered the new couple's debut that he took the fateful step.

He was a young nobleman of perfect proportions, strong of face, fit of body. His skin, however, tanned a light brown, was not the product of toil but of vacations in the family villa on the southern continent. On his right arm came his bride, Zia, radiant in a golden dress that flashed in the sunlight; the pride of Vitria and now his. Behind the crowd, a line of soldiers approached down the main road, black-clad magisterial acolytes at the fore bearing dark, flapping banners.

The soft pink pedals of the Lycinia trees, falling in the cool spring breeze, were ripped away as a low-flying shuttle tore through the air. In the unsettling quiet that followed in its wake, Serveus was keenly aware of his brideís tiny, cold fingers gripping his arm. 

"Young sir," a voice called. Serveus looked down to see that an armoured man, about his fatherís age, had pushed through the wedding reception and was mounting the stairs. He wore an antique blaster inlaid with gold at his side, and a grey moustache twisted to stilletto points protruded outside his helmet. "Will you help us? The Anaketh landed a war host in Gallennon last night and will not rest there long."

The icy hand of fear grabbed Serveus' spine, but he fought it off with anger; how dare they conscript him on today, of all days? He considered a biting riposte to the demand, but Zia's tongue was quicker. 
"Would you take my husband away from me, on my very wedding night?"
"I would not take him, madame," the old soldier said. "But I would ask his aid -- and yours in giving him up -- in the defence of our home and Empire."
"He has duties to his wife, now," Serveus' father barked, pushing the young groom aside.

Serveus clapped his free hand on his fatherís shoulder and addressed the soldier. "Centurion -- as I guess that's what you are -- your men make a pretty parade to help me celebrate my matrimony, but I don't see the Imperial standard. Your force is not sanctioned by the proprætor." 

The scarred veteran lowered his eyes to the white flagstones. "With all the respect due our honourable proprætor, I must say his belief that the Anaketh are not enemies was proved wrong by the skies last night."
Serveus had seen that proof as he had paced throughout the night, unable to sleep, agonising over the wedding day. He glanced about quickly; he would never admit to anyone that he had been nervous, even fearful of his betrothed; an alluring and demanding woman. No, they couldnít know ... yet he had seen the twinkling amidst the night stars as ships had given up the ghost in bursts of light and lasers had scorched the upper atmosphere.

"What is that to me?"

"That's right, this is not your fight, son," his father nodded.

"A good question, young sir," the captain said. "It is a decision about who you are. Are you a man to give up without a fight, or one to struggle manfully when victory's not assured? A man of recreation or duty?"

To march a long, tiring path, then fight the vicious chelonian Anaketh, or recline at the well-adorned table his father had set for him and then to a well-deserved life practicing law in peace?

"I am no coward ..."
"You fanatics and your warmongering!" his father shouted, striking the marble parapet. "You will sacrifice these men in a hopeless cause! We cannot stand against the Anaketh; we should surrender and join them. They will be merciful. The Emperor will understand; God will understand. We don't have enough soldiers; there's hardly a quæstor these days to lead!"
"Can't stand, or won't?" Zia suddenly burst forth. Her eyes glistened like diamonds in the hot, bluish sun and her cheeks seemed cut of marble.

"Zia, I thought you ..." Serveus hesitated.

"The choice is yours, husband. I cannot make it for you." She bit her lip and said no more, but those hard, tear-encased eyes told him that she would die before signing a protection pact with an Anaketh master.
He looked over at his father. Unlike the centurion, a comfortable belly hung over his belt, beside which hung the sword that Serveus knew had never been drawn. He himself had tried once, years ago. Its hilt and scabbard were glistening and spotless, but the blade would not budge, rusted in place.
Could he not stand? Would he not? He looked out at the crowd, seeing in it the expectant faces of many young men. Serveusí family was prominent; many of them would follow his lead. He pulled his wife to him and kissed her gently on the forehead. Her dark eyelids fluttered down, brushing her cheeks like damp raven feathers as she acknowledged his choice.
"I will help you, Centurion." Shifting his gaze to the wedding guests, he added, "Which of you heroes is with me?"

The answering cheer drowned out Serveusí fatherís last protestation. He embraced Zia one last time, then followed the centurion down the steps.

Fin.

6.05.2019

Léon Degrelle, the Inspiration for Tintin?


The Adventures of Tintin comics are a staple around the Blackwell household, universally loved by all clan members. Some years ago, Catholic World News ran an article quoting the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano on the topic of the forthcoming Steven Spielberg movie "The Adventures Tintin", describing the title character as “a knight without a stain”. Although the young journalist-hero is not overtly religious (in either the comics or said film), L’Osservatore quoted at length from a French critic who sees Tintin as an examplar of Catholic virtues. 

This "French critic" may be onto something since the inspiration for Tintin was the Catholic politician Léon Degrelle. Although Tintin is not a politician or soldier, I believe he is based on Degrelle during his years as a journalist-adventurer most notably covering the Cristero War in Mexico. Hergé, the creator of the comic-book character met and befriended Degrelle in Belgium in the 1930s during the latter's political crusading days.

Degrelle himself
supported my theory in his memoirs (which can be downloaded here: http://www.jailingopinions.com/tintin.pdf (in French)).

Hergé subsequently denied that he based Tintin on Degrelle, maybe due to the fact that Degrelle was villainised as a "collaborator" after WWII. Degrelle had, after all, volunteered to fight against the Bolsheviks in first the Wehrmacht then the SS on the Eastern Front. That's a whole can of worms that I'm not going to get into right now. But in further support of my belief that Tintin really was based on Léon Degrelle the similarities in appearance are rather striking ...






The similarities to the CGI version of Tintin in Spielberg's rendition seems even more striking to the photos of Degrelle:




6.03.2019

Blast from the Past: Primus' First Sci Fi Work

Way back in 2012, young Albert Blackwell submitted a piece of Star Wars themed art work into the all-grades art show at his school. Naturally, being the good son that he is, he chose to draw one of the all-time classic opening scenes in film. We thought it would be fun to look back at that early work from he who now gives you the Time Lizard and Prowess and Loyalty series.





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